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With: Cameron Diaz, Lucy Punch, Jason Segel, Justin Timberlake, Phyllis Smith, John Michael Higgins, Dave 'Gruber' Allen, Jillian Armenante, Matthew J. Evans, Kaitlyn Dever, Kathryn Newton, Igal Ben Yair, Aja Bair, Andra Nechita, Noah Munck, David Paymer, Molly Shannon
Written by: Gene Stupnitsky, Lee Eisenberg
Directed by: Jake Kasdan
MPAA Rating: R for sexual content, nudity, language and some drug use
Running Time: 92
Date: 06/17/2011

Bad Teacher (2011)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Knock-Chalk Jokes

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

How bad is a bad teacher? Not bad enough in this case. Cameron Diaz plays Elizabeth Halsey, a seventh grade teacher in Chicago. She drinks in class, smokes pot in her car, shows movies to her students while she sleeps, writes curse words on test papers, pushes people around, and acts sweet only when she wants something. In this post-Farrelly day and age, she's practically an angel. To solve the problem, writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (Year One) and director Jake Kasdan (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) change the perspective. They make all the other characters super duper nice!

Principal Wally Snur (John Michael Higgins) has adopted a dolphin and collects dolphin paraphernalia in his office. Teacher Amy Squirrel (Lucy Punch) is Elizabeth's "across the hall mate" and keeps a sticker on her desk that says, "Teaching is Fun-Tastic"! And handsome sub Scott Delacorte (Justin Timberlake) has a whole speech about how he "hates slavery... SO much." This kind of goody-two-shoes stuff is more squirm-inducing than chuckle-making. And so Diaz gets the majority of the movie's few laughs, simply by virtue of the fact that she has always been an able-bodied comedienne. (Consider her in The Mask, There's Something About Mary, Being John Malkovich, Charlie's Angels, In Her Shoes, etc.)

What is Miss Halsey even doing there? She was in the middle of using her looks and sexuality to marry into money, but her would-be fiancé dumped her before he could make that mistake. So she's forced to return to teaching. How did she get to be a teacher in the first place? The movie doesn't say. While at school, she decides that she'd like to get in with Scott Delacorte, a good guy that obviously has money, but would rather spend his time teaching. Unfortunately, he's a serious drip, as evidenced by the movie's "water cooler scene," an embarrassing dry-hump. Elizabeth is better matched to cynical but good-hearted gym teacher Russell Gettis (Jason Segel). Unfortunately for Elizabeth, he's... a gym teacher.

See where this is going? Lucy Punch throws in one surprise when her character begins to act vindictive toward Elizabeth (they're both coveting Scott). Punch mixes crazy in with her perky performance, but unfortunately, Punch is far more gifted at playing a dimwit than she is at either nice or nuts. The main problem is that Hollywood finds it next to impossible to break out of the mold of the "likeable" characters. They find it inconceivable that in something like, say, Bad Santa (2003), we might find some humanity within the character's abominable behavior. Bad Teacher tries too hard to insist upon that humanity, without letting us discover it for ourselves. Here's hoping the upcoming Horrible Bosses has the courage to be truly horrible.

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